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Thursday, Apr. 27, 2017
McCue and de la Riva an impressive Sudbury squash 1-2 punch
2016-11-22
by Randy Pascal

Charles de la Riva Jr may or may not follow closely in the footsteps of accomplished local squash talent Michael McCue. Safe to say, however, the 16 year-old grade 11 student at Collège Notre-Dame has certainly come closest to achieving similar feats to those that McCue could lay claim to while completing his studies at Lockerby Composite less than a decade ago.

Ironically, both gentlemen have recently garnered attention with their play.

Running an in-house tournament of area junior squash talent on the weekend, de la Riva has now also established himself as the man to beat within the Sudbury Squash League, a gathering of pretty much all of the top-end adult talent in the sport in the Nickel City these days.

Throw in ever more competitive results while attending junior tournaments across Ontario and beyond, and it’s clear that the teenager who keeps busy coaching many of the kids looking to follow in his footsteps, has seen his game improve noticeably in recent years.

“I’m a lot stronger on the court, a lot more creative,” said de la Riva. “It’s a combination of a lot of things. Just playing here (Sudbury YMCA), with the adults, has given me a little bit of help, because I don’t have a coach.”

If nothing else, the matches have introduced the eldest of three boys in the family to the patience that often comes with age, as he tests himself continually against opponents anywhere from ten to twenty years his elder, or more.

“Sometimes, I just have to stick to basics, hit the ball down the wall and not make any mistakes,” said de la Riva. “Not doing that can hurt you, especially if you’re playing a very long match. When you’re younger, it’s easy to get tired and then go for a silly shot that you are probably not be able to do. Then you start making mistakes and get frustrated, and then it all falls apart.”

With a couple more tournaments on his busy schedule planned between now and Christmas, de la Riva is cautiously eyeing potential goals. “I would really like to win a big tournament, a big junior event, either provincially or in another province – but we’ll see,” he said.

“I may go to the Canadian Open (in 2017) in Vancouver. I’m 16 now, so I may have a bit of an upper hand playing in the Under-17 division (which includes 15 and 16 year olds).” As for the YMCA Junior Tournament, divisional winners were Robert de la Riva (A), Ben O’Conor (B), Evan MacNeil (C) and Julien Michaud (D), as 28 young squash players came together, including 11 that represented Ecole St-Etienne in Dowling.

Both Charles and Robert de la Riva will be on the road this weekend, attending the BMO Ontario Junior Closed Squash Championships in Vaughan.

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Meanwhile in Ottawa earlier this month, Michael McCue emerged from his 7th seed position as the PSA Tournament (GoodLife Open 2016) started, advancing to the championship final of a $10,000 event for the first time ever in his professional squash career.

McCue upset Shawn Deliere (#3) in the quarter-finals, and Henrik Mustonen of Finland (#2) in the semi-finals, earning himself a shot at American #1 seed Chris Gordon. A 3-1 loss in the finals (11-9, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9) provided even more reason for optimism, with McCue already quite stoked about his results.

“To be honest, Shawn was slightly injured and that match wasn't really in doubt after the first few rallies,” acknowledged McCue of his 11-6, 11-7, 11-4 victory. “Beating Mustonen was more legitimate, probably the best match I have ever played.” McCue took out the #54 player in the world in four sets, 11-5, 6-11, 11-4, 11-6.

“I felt I had a chance to win the final as well, but Gordon was steadier through the middle portion of each game and that left me playing catch-up. In the past, I've allowed these stronger players to dictate the patterns of play and taken on a more defensive role tactically, which is simply not a winning formula.”

Still, a pretty good few days for the 23 year-old Sudbury native, all in all. “I felt very comfortable on that specific court in Ottawa all week, so I was able to play aggressively and instinctively at a fast pace,” said McCue.

Ranked #107 currently, McCue was cautious about signaling whether this particular performance might lay the foundation for a jump up the standings. “It’s tough to tell if one good week indicates a true jump in standard, but at the very least, it gives you a huge confidence boost knowing that you can indeed beat top-50 level players consecutively,” he said.

“I have a similar prospective draw this week in Saskatoon, so if I can back up last week’s performance, it would solidify the improvement. The margins are so small at this level that a slight tweak to your mindset can be the difference between losing a tight match and winning convincingly.”

And it’s not as though local efforts are going unnoticed in the GTA. “Sudbury is by far the leading northern community for squash, and has set a high standard for programming amongst all YMCAs,” noted Squash Ontario Executive Director Jamie Nicholls.

“Mike McCue is now the highest ranked Northern Ontario squash player of all-time, ranked #1 in Ontario and #4 in Canada.”

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